This is the time of the year when all the various pop culture sites on these here Intertubes post grand and glorious gift lists. Each and every year we all drool over the images of a Carbonite Desk, life-size Tardis, or our very own Caprica Six (okay, maybe you can’t buy that one). Still, for most of us mere mortals these gifts are so far beyond our means we simply shake our head and whisper “someday”. Normally this would be the section where your friendly neighborhood Geek writes “And now, it is my turn”. Well, it is, but you won’t get anything from the GeekintheCity list; save that warm and fuzzy feeling you got after your first natural kiss or first 20. (Um, strike that. Reverse it).
This has been a tough year, hell, it has been a tough few years now. Many a friend and family have seen their jobs go away, or at the very least stand on shaky ground. While there is some glimmer of recovery on the horizon, we’re still facing a rather tight holiday season. I consider myself very lucky. I’ve never gone without something under the tree. I’ve never spent the holidays in a hospital bed, tubes connected to my body. I’ve never spent my holiday in a shelter, hoping for just one more hot meal and soft bed. I’ve never spent the holidays overseas, surrounded by people that wanted to kill me. Yes, I have been very lucky indeed. As I grow older I am made more and more aware of this fact, and in kind I find myself wanting to give back that which made me the human I am today. With that in mind, I wanted to present to you fine readers some Geek themed charities you can give to this holiday season that will help make the season a little brighter.
The Hero Initiative – I’ve written about this fantastic group many times and am an active and yearly sponsor. Their goal is simple, insure those that fueled our dreams have a chance at theirs. For every Stan Lee you read about, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of writers, artists, inkers, and letters you never heard of. Many of whom lived tough, even unbearable lives, while their creations went on to generate millions. The Hero Initiative doesn’t point fingers or go after companies. They simply exist to help these creators through tough times. Be it rent, medical bills, or simply helping them buy food; the Hero Initiative is there. Sadly, even in the modern age many comic book professionals work without any form of safety net or health coverage. When you or I break a finger, it cuts into our XBox time and we complain. A comic creator breaks a finger, they may find themselves out of a job. This is where the Hero Initiative will often step in and make sure the bills still get paid as this creator heals. As their slogan goes: Because Everyone Deserves a Golden Age.
Heroes For Heroes – Everyone knows, the occasional Star Trek Gay Rights rant aside, this site stays away from anything politically charged. Not saying the folks at GeekintheCity don’t have an opinion (toss back a few brews with us, we got opinions comin’ out of our Power Regulators). This was just a nice way of saying you can help out our men and women serving overseas without being a fan of many of the reasons they’re there. (Shoot, I’ve got close friends that serve and they ain’t fans of the reasons either). Heroes For Heroes isn’t out to make a political statement. They aren’t out to push an agenda. Their mission is simple. Being away from home at the holidays sucks. It sucks even more when you spend it in a dusty tent in the middle of a dessert and all the green and red lights come from weapons systems. When you donate goods to Heroes For Heroes, you aren’t tossing in your support for Glenn Beck or Thom Hartmann. You aren’t buying a cheesy magnet ribbon that does nothing but fatten the Global Magnet Ribbon Cartel (okay, that doesn’t exists, but I like the image). No. You’re simply making an already hostile living condition just a little more comfortable. We joke about comics being cliched images of Americana, but as one that has talked directly to troops that receive comics from the states… Apart from cookies from mom, there is very little that reminds them of home than Truth, Justice, and the Comic Book Way!
Equality Now – Equality Now was founded in 1992 to work for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women around the world. Working with national human rights organizations and individual activists, Equality Now documents violence and discrimination against women and mobilizes international action to support their efforts to stop these human rights abuses. Through the Can’t Stop the Serenity project, Firefly / Serenity fans host screenings and charity drives to raise money for this important group. I could go on and on about this great group, but this video work better. (And, it is kinda’ shiny too).
Child’s Play – As if the Penny Arcade folks aren’t busy enough, in 2003 they started the Child’s Play Charity. Like many charities, this one started with a simple idea. Kids, all kids, should have some fun and joy in their lives. If an illness keeps them from going out and having fun, we Geeks should bring the fun to them. I’ll let Gabe from Child’s Play tell you:
Here’s the deal.
Since 2003, we’ve set up and organized Child’s Play, a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games in our network of over 60 hospitals worldwide. In five short years, you as a community have answered the call and come together to raise millions of dollars.
That was awesome. You guys have proven over and over again that you are an overwhelming force, and you really came through and made a real difference to the millions of kids that children’s hospitals care for each year. So we’re doing it again this year, only this time we’ve expanded Child’s Play to more hospitals around US and the globe so you can send toys to a hospital a little closer to home.
Child’s Play works the same as last year. With the help of hospital staff, we’ve set up gift wish lists full of video games, toys, and movies. You can go to each hospital’s list and buy a toy, and that toy will be sent to the hospital. Some of these kids are in pretty bad shape. Imagine being stuck alone in a hospital over the holidays, getting something from a fellow gamer would really raise their spirits. Some of the stuff the hospital will give away for kids to keep, while other gifts (like consoles) will be kept by the hospital for patients to use throughout the year.
We are arguably the largest community of gamers on the internet. The important word there being community. We are not a faceless corporation and you are not just a number tracked by a database and then relayed to hungry advertisers. You guys have proven yourselves to be a powerful force when stirred into action. Here is your opportunity to use that power to do some real good.
O.R.C. – Finally, something for the local folks. The Oregon Roleplaying Charity hosts all-day gaming events and uses any money raised to support and donate to the Portland branch of SMART. The SMART reading program helps kids become confident readers by providing individual volunteer attention and new, take-home books. SMART partners with more than 200 schools that have high populations of children from low income families, as studies show they are less likely to have books in the home. To encourage reading outside the classroom, SMART gives each child 14 new, take-home books—two per month during the course of the program. The vision of SMART is an Oregon where every child can read and is empowered to succeed. You can take direct action this Saturday (12/12/09) and join O.R.C. for some all-day role playing at Guardian Gamesin Portland. Starting at noon and running until close of the store. Games will be held in two sessions of four hours each. The first session is from noon until 4:00pm and the second session from 5:00pm to 9:00pm. All they ask for a $5.00 minimum donation (but you are always welcome to give more, come on, you don’t need ANOTHER set of dice) to sit in on the games, larger donations are always appreciated. I’ve already planned to dungeon delve in some old-school AD&D 1st Edition fun, join me!
So, after you go out and get that fun swag for you and yours, take some time and help out these great Geek charities. Just because we don’t live in a game doesn’t mean we can’t rack up some Karma points. Until next time, may all your rolls be Natural 20s!
Greetings programs! On this estrogen fueled issue of GeekintheCity Radio, Aaron is joined by Kristen Bowie and the Lovely Jenn while Scott fights Andorian Antenna Flu. First, Kristen Bowie talks about life in the employed world while Aaron just nods with confusion. Next, the Lovely Jenn steps in to review And Another Thing, the sixth book in the increasingly misnamed Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Can Eoin Colfer fill the frood shoes of the late, great Douglas Adams? Then, Aaron and Kristen dive into uber game nerdality with their reviews of Modern Warfare 2 and Left 4 Dead 2. Only on GeekintheCity Radio!
What does it say that the moment I wrote that title above, I immediately heard the iconic “Dumm-Dumm” from Law & Order? Really, if there was any game franchise to follow the path of Dick Wolf’s seminal cop / legal series, it is Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto games. With each game release you wonder just how the hell they can squeeze anything fun and original from this felonious stone? After delving into the world of The Lost and the Damned as well as The Ballad of Gay Tony, I’d say, freakin’ plenty!
It should be noted this review is based on the stand-alone Xbox 360 disc, released on October 29, and not the downloadable versions of the game. And, while I’m spewing total honesty, I should also come clean with something. I haven’t sat down and actively played any Grand Theft Auto game since San Andreas. Not that I had anything against the series, it just didn’t seem to offer me anything new. After playing Episodes From Liberty City, I may need to go back and contemplate my previous belief.
The Lost and the Damned – You are the Vice-President of the notorious biker gang “The Lost”, the hard-riding Jonathan “Johnny” Klebitz. You been running the show while your older brother, and true leader of The Lost, Billy gets released from rehab. You did a pretty good job running the crew, but the rival bastards in Angels of Death see the potential for biker gang supremacy. As such, the moment you give the reigns back to your bro, all frakking hell brakes loose in Liberty City. At first, I was horrified at the idea of a GTA game based on motorcycle play. As many a gamer knows, bikes ain’t the most reliable form of transportation in the game. Hell, bumping your bike onto the curb while attempting to park often generates the same result as a Chevy Corsair crashing into a Kenworth in a Michael Bay movie. Rockstar clearly understands that issue and did some serious tweaking with motorcycle control. A good thing when you consider some of the best moments in The Lost and the Damned involve drop down bad ass shoot out battles on your hog!
While still a sandbox box, The Lost and the Damned is decidedly more linear that GTA 4. In a way, I prefer this story format. The previous Grand Theft Auto games almost felt too big, too open. Many times I found myself wondering just what the hell I was doing. I mean, I like jacking’ old ladies cars and smacking around bar owners as much as the next guy. Still, I need me some direction. Vying for top dog status, The Lost and the Damned allows for total turf warfare battles between The Lost and those bastards, The Angels of Death. Another great addition to both games is the inclusion of “mid-mission” checkpoints. No longer do you need worry about getting to the final 10% of a mission, take a wrong turn, and have to start all over again. Note to Rockstar, please keep this addition in any and all follow-up games. Please. For all that is holy, keep the mid-mission checkpoints.
Unlike the original Grand Theft Auto 4, The Lost and the Damned doesn’t offer too much in the replay department. No, the optional bike racing events don’t count, they get boring rather fast. Still, with 23 ultra violent and action packed missions, The Lost and the Damned is good for a solid 15-20 hours of game play.
The Ballad of Gay Tony – Rockstar really should have named this one Liberty City – Lord of Studio 54! The house music is bumpin’ and thumpin’. Bands paid in blow and hookers. The cash ain’t flowing’ like it used to, so ‘ol Gay Tony gotta’ deal with the less than glamorous elements of Liberty City. But, that don’t mean you ain’t gonna’ have a fabulous time. Taking the part of Luis Lopez, Gay Tony’s top bouncer and confidant, you’re there to make sure the boss stays neck high in boys and booze. The Ballad of Gay Tony, while no great leaps in game play, feels like a completely different world. Gone is all the grim and grit of Grand Theft Auto 4; and we are leaps and bounds away from the ugly (but awesome) world of The Lost and the Damned.
Sticking with the time-tested format of “mission – accept – perform – cash” of all the previous GTA games, The Ballad of Gay Tony adds new and optional side missions to break the monotony. Nothing better than parachuting from a helicopter into your bosses’ dope ass club and laying down the law! Between cage fights, bouncin’ fake playas from the club, and making sure your boss stays atop the night life in Liberty City; the Ballad of Gay Tony is a damn fine way to spend your gaming days. With one of the strongest narratives and voice acting than any of the GTA, The Ballad of Gay Tony is worth the purchase price alone.
While the graphics engine is starting to show it’s age, you’ll still be hard pressed to find a prettier sandbox game on the Xbox 360. If you never bought Grand Theft Auto 4, or owned the game but avoided both games as downloadable content, you should pick Episodes From Liberty City. For a mere $39.99, Episodes From Liberty City provides solid game play and entertainment bang for your bucks.
Pop in the disc, turn down the lights, crank up the sound, and enjoy one more trip to Liberty City. You’ll may never want to leave.
Dan Clark joins Aaron Duran in this lamentations-filled issue of GeekintheCity Radio as the Famous Scott Dally goes on assignment. First, Aaron and Dan talk about which DC Comics “Ring Flinger” could do the most shots at a party within the neutral multiverse that is Geek Manor. Then, Aaron delves into The Box. Is it a million dollar jackpot, or does he wish someone would push his button? Then, Kaebel Hashitani brings the Portland culture with another installment of The Month in Arts. Finally, Dan feels great lamentations…and cries. No really, he cries. Like a girl. With a beard. Only on GeekintheCity Radio!